With the current trend toward green within organizations, companies are promoting environmentally friendly marketing strategies. People in general are becoming more ecologically aware. And government is considering or enacting several eco-friendly policies.
IT is no exception to the movement, and it's not surprising. According to a 2007 study by Jonathan Koomey, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a consulting professor at Stanford University, the powering and cooling of servers and auxiliary infrastructure accounted for 1.2 percent of energy consumption in the U.S. during 2005 and cost U.S. businesses $2.7 billion.
Koomey's study also highlights the possibility that servers will demand even more electricity in coming years. "If power per server remains constant, those trends would imply an increase in electricity used by servers worldwide of about 40 percent by 2010. If in addition the average power use per unit goes up at the same rate for each class, as our analysis indicates that it did from 2000 to 2005, total electricity used by servers by 2010 would be 76 percent higher than it was in 2005," notes Koomey.
Such an exponential increase in demand and consumption would have serious consequences. In April 2007, Gartner estimated that the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector was responsible for approximately 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and, should Koomey's estimates prove correct, that percentage will increase substantially.
Furthermore, to meet the increased demand, utility companies need to construct additional power plants - something which would itself require additional power and could result in the loss of nondeveloped green sites. The same holds true in relation to data centers; as they hit their limit of existing capacity, new data centers will need to be constructed, potentially resulting in the loss of yet more green spaces.
Regulations and Incentives
Environmental concerns are not the only thing pushing businesses toward greening their IT operations. Governments are implementing an increasing number of policies to promote and enforce sustainable IT. The European Union (EU) is already working to establish a code of conduct for data centers, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering similar measures.
Additionally, simple economics play a major role in moving green IT into the enterprise mainstream because greening can lead to substantial savings. Obviously, reducing the amount of energy used will also reduce the amount of the electricity bill. Beyond that, businesses can reap savings on hardware and IT administration and management costs. Further increasing the appeal of green are the incentives being offered by utility companies like Pacific Gas and Electric, which reward customers that implement energy-efficient technologies such as virtualization. It may seem somewhat odd for a company to reward customers for using less of their product, but Pacific Gas and Electric does so in order to avoid the expense of new power plants and to ensure that environmental quality is maintained in the communities they serve.
Also, many consumers now expect businesses to demonstrate their green credentials and will factor this into purchasing decisions. Similarly, in order to demonstrate their own commitment to environmentally friendly practices, businesses expect their suppliers to become ecologically responsible. HP has already started this ball rolling with the latest disclosure of the emissions of its largest suppliers. Gartner recently predicted that "by 2011, suppliers to large global enterprises will need to prove their green credentials via an audited process to retain preferred supplier status."
Given these trends, it is clear that businesses may soon find that greening is no longer optional, but a cost of doing business. Green really has become the new mean.
At least a couple of obstacles to greening remain. The first is simply a lack of motivation. As Mark Bramfitt, the
principal program lead on Pacific Gas and Electric's Customer Energy Efficiency Team, points out, "The cost savings driver is not as strong as it could be because there is still the disconnect between the people making technology decisions and the responsibility for paying the utility bills." The solution to this problem is not complex; it simply needs senior management to be brought on board and take the lead.
A second problem is that businesses often view greening as an entirely technological matter. "We think of the problem of reducing electricity used by information technology equipment as a technical problem, but it's as much a problem of people and institutions ... To attack this problem at its root, we need to modify institutional structures and individual incentives so that the most environmentally sound outcome is also the most profitable one," notes Koomey.
And he is absolutely correct. The rewards from going green are not always as great as they could be. In part, that is because incentive schemes, such as those offered by Pacific Gas and Electric, have only recently come to market and because energy-efficient technologies have been expensive to acquire and to implement. It is also true partly because many businesses simply do not make the most out of green technologies and so do not obtain the maximum ROI.
Virtualization used to be a somewhat esoteric technology deployed mainly in large-scale data center server consolidation projects. However, with VMware and other virtualization vendors releasing products specifically geared for the small and midsized business market (and priced accordingly), virtualization is now within the reach of all.
Virtualization is a technology that enables multiple heterogeneous operating systems to run simultaneously on the same physical hardware. This is advantageous because running a single operating system on a modern high-powered server will almost certainly result in that server being severely underutilized. In fact, in many businesses, servers are operating at anywhere between 5 and 25 percent of their total load capacity, thus wasting a substantial amount of processing power. Virtualization enables workloads from those underutilized servers to be consolidated to a fewer number of servers.
There are a number of obvious benefits to consolidating servers in this manner: reducing the installed server base decreases the amount of electricity needed for powering and cooling, lessens rack space and floor space requirements and cuts future spending on equipment.
These benefits represent the raison d'etre of the majority of virtualization projects, but that is not the whole story. A common misconception about virtualization is that it's simply a method for businesses to reduce their installed server base. But, as VMware puts it, virtualization is a strategic discussion, not a point solution like server consolidation. Businesses that view virtualization as a point solution are likely to sit back once their servers have been consolidated and not explore other areas where they could benefit.
Virtualization enables not only server consolidation, but also the consolidation of people and processes, and this is critically important. According to a 2006 study by IDC, management and administrative expenditure in data centers is growing three times faster than expenditure on computing equipment. So, while it is certainly important for businesses to find ways to reduce their hardware spending, it is even more important that those businesses seek out ways to reduce their management and administrative overhead. Virtualization enables them to do just that.
Virtualization opens the door to a radical overhaul of both people and processes. In the virtual world, servers can be provisioned and brought online in a matter of minutes - a task that takes several hours in the physical world. Problems with applications that would have been tied to a specific physical server can be resolved much more speedily in a virtual environment.
Management duties and responsibilities can be streamlined and rationalized. Problems that would have required on-site action can be handled remotely. Backup and recovery plans will need to be completely overhauled, but the end result will be processes that are much easier to both implement and maintain. Physical servers that were managed by people become virtual servers that can be managed automatically.
Accordingly, virtualization provides a business with an opportunity to do far more than simply cut its electricity bill; it also provides an opportunity to completely rethink the existing IT strategy and reorganize practices and management responsibilities in a manner that is more cost-effective and introduces real agility into operations.
Businesses can further improve their virtualization effort's ROI by implementing solutions that can integrate with their new virtual infrastructure: virtual appliances. A virtual appliance is a physical appliance encapsulated entirely in software. Unlike physical appliances, virtual appliances can be easily evaluated and speedily deployed, moved from one physical system to another and backed up and restored. This both reduces the workload on IT and introduces additional agility and mobility into operations.
To derive the maximum benefit from virtualization, businesses need to plan carefully - not only to ensure that they maximize their savings in every possible area, but also to avoid the perils that can be associated with an incautious, headfirst dive. Somewhat ironically, some of the factors that make virtualization so appealing can also lead to problems. For example, because virtual servers can be brought online easily and speedily, virtual server sprawl is a real risk. While those virtual servers may be less costly than their physical counterparts, they nonetheless still require computer resources and still need to be managed and tracked. To avoid this, businesses must put in place a procurement process similar to that which is used for physical servers.
A Clear Choice
There is no doubt that virtualization - and the greening trend in general - is great for the environment. But it can be great for businesses, too. With careful planning, businesses can use their green IT effort to enhance their public image, increase their agility and cut their operation costs.
The most environmentally sound outcome can be the most profitable one, too. And that's good news for everybody.
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